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She never phones, she never writes ....

FOR A few days now I have been chiselling away at Tory party and publishing sources, hoping to bring you some extracts from Margaret Thatcher's memoirs: however, the chisel is proving a bit blunt so, not wanting to disappoint, I called on a former member of the Thatcher inner circle yesterday, and asked for a preview. (I actually called on him to ask for his views on Bosnia, which seemed at odds with Thatcher's, but the rest came tumbling out.) So with only a few concessions to Sir Alfred Sherman's plea at the end of our chat to keep the 'things I said about Thatcher out', here are a few thoughts from the man once considered closer to Baroness Thatcher than anyone else.

The first is that he doesn't expect any favours from Lady Thatcher, despite several years' service during which he claims to have 'helped make her', written her speeches, warned her of potential pitfalls (poll tax, Falklands: both ignored, he claims) and advised her on her strengths (he tried to persuade her to capitalise on her Grantham roots: however, 'she always wanted to be a county Tory with twinset and pearls, but they saw through her').

From his flat overlooking South Kensington Underground station - he used to have a house, but hints that he is doing badly financially, 'no longer being the flavour of the month' - Sir Alfred described Lady Thatcher as a 'mixture of timidity and arrogance'. She made bad appointments (Lord Young, Peter Walker, the results of 'listening to Willie too much'), lacked self- awareness and was always too impatient. So the two no longer saw each other, I assumed.

Correct, he said. The break was sudden. Having set up the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974 with the then Sir Keith Joseph - contrary to belief, Lady Thatcher was never particularly interested in the think tank, he claims - Sir Alfred left the centre in 1984 after receiving a 'virulent' letter from Hugh Thomas, the centre's chairman. 'I had annoyed her favourite, Hugh Thomas, that's all I know'. Apart from the odd brush past at cocktail parties, the two have not met in recent years, though Sir Alfred would like a reply to the letter he sent her last year about Bosnia, which he thinks should have been granted the courtesy of a response.

ON GOOD Friday, the doorbell rang at a quiet house in St Albans; answering it, the owner found two Mormon missionaries anxious to engage her in religious talk. 'Do you know about God?' they tried for openers. 'Yes,' replied Lady Runcie, with some asperity. 'My husband was the Archbishop of Canterbury for 10 years.' 'Ah,' said the leading missionary, thrown. Recovering quickly, however, he countered: 'What church would that be, then?'

Dog bites lawyer THIS week's New Law Journal prints an apology for a misleading report that has caused confusion in courts around the land. Specifically, 'it has been brought to our attention that in some instances, counsel have been citing the Divisional Court case reported by Ross Burns under the heading Brutus and the Reasonable Man which appeared on the Postscript page (8 January, 1993)'.

The Divisional Court appeal followed a decision by magistrates to throw out a prosecution against an Australian accused of cruelty to a pit bull terrier. In a lengthy summary, the magazine reported how, in NSPCA v Illudson, the defendant had risen early to remonstrate with Brutus's owner, 'an amateur middle-weight of some note'. He did so because each day 'Brutus went walkies at 7.30am, stopping at 7.32am to relieve himself against the defendant's gatepost'. After doing everything a reasonable citizen could be expected to do, Illudson, an Australian national living in Earls Court, created a contraption similar to one on his family's farm near Wagga Wagga: namely, an electric fence to keep beasts from straying. According to Mr Burns, Illudson exposed electric fence around his gatepost, wired it to a transformer, and set it to become live from 7.29am. The aim was to administer a mild, harmless shock, discouraging Brutus from further fouling.

Well, it all went wrong. Expert evidence had suggested that what might have been a mild buzz to a two-ton bull would be like a blow from a sledgehammer to a 40lb dog. When Brutus received a shock, first from the post, then the gate, a full blast of current arched into his loins. 'A pet psychiatrist is helping him deal with his trauma.' In the apology, the magazine said it had hoped the words 'shaggy dog' and the report's style would have alerted those barristers who cited it as case law. 'In future, Mr Burns' reports will carry a specific warning against citation.'

A day like this

27 April, 1915 CYNTHIA ASQUITH writes in her diary: 'So very sorry to hear Rupert Brooke has died in the Dardanelles of poisoning or sunstroke. I have only met him once or twice, never got to know him, but always looked forward to doing so some day, and it does stab one to think of his beautiful young poet's face with the cornfield head. He had the most lovely regard I have ever seen I think. Poor Eddie Marsh will be heart-broken - I think he was his favourite protege. I am told that he was absolutely convinced he would be killed in this war and he wrote lovely poems bidding farewell to things he loved - the 'touch of fur' was one which I thought original. It is rather sad that it should have been an illness.'